The chronicles of Ethiopian American life, outlooks and experiences.

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Understanding your rights

Imagine yourself in a foreign land, you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the culture and you don’t know anyone else that shares a similar experience as you. You try to fit in as much as you can with no success. You try to navigate your way through education, employment, housing, and legal issues. You are getting by, but most of the time you have absolutely no idea what is going on.

So many people in the United States share this experience. Not just Ethiopians. Many immigrants as a whole. I have come face to face with so many people who become intimidated by the court systems in this country. I don’t blame them. It is not only intimidating to someone who is from a foreign country, it is intimidating even for those of us who have grown up here.

As an attorney, one of my biggest concerns is that so many people don’t know their rights. People are automatically intimidated by the legal system, and assume that an accusation is a finding of guilt. However that is not at all the case. I can only help those I know, but how do we help those throughout the country. I find that people are often frightened by the possibilities of punishment by a harsh legal system. They are not to be blamed for these fears. It is true, what is one to do, if no one around you knows what you are saying. How do you preserve your rights? How do you say I want an attorney when you don’t know how to say that? I believe it is the obligation of the police, those who have first contact in many cases, to try to explain things in a culturally sensitive manner so that people are not automatically frightened and intimidated. We must avoid admissions of guilt when people aren’t really guilty.  This can be done by sharing knowledge and remembering that We ALL HAVE RIGHTS!

It is my desire and hope that minority communities, especially the Ethiopian Community as a whole can begin to look past the various barriers that stand in the way of unity.  Overcoming that obstacle will lead to a community that is large in number, united and moves forward to tackle these issues.  Different people know different pieces of information, but if we don’t share that information how can we possibly move forward and grow.  While I advocate being helpful to one another and supportive and sharing knowledge to advance our community I must also say that those that are seeking assistance, advice or help must also take some responsibility.  You have to use the information you are given for it to be useful.  You have to ask for help to receive it.  And you have to remember that everything has a time and a place and when asking someone to help you it should be on that person’s terms , not on yours.


Being yourself

Many people spend most of their time trying to fit in to society.  I have noticed my fellow Ethiopians comparing themselves to one another and competing.  Constantly trying to see what so and so is driving, where they are working, what their kid is doing.  I have noticed some people refer to others by their career path, rather than their name or other identifying features.  Why is that?  What is the true measure of an individual.

My philosophy is this- BE YOURSELF.  You can’t look outside of yourself to determine who you are, or where you fit into society.  The reality is that you have to spend time with yourself to figure that part out.  I think that’s the part many people within the Ethiopian American community struggle with.  We are all so busy running between social functions that we forget to take that time out to spend with ourselves.  That is what hurts our community.  We need to actually spend time determining what our goals are as individuals, rather than figuring out what it is that everyone else is doing or wants to do.  It is then that we will all reach our full capacity.

Being yourself is the ultimate form of self satisfaction.  You can be at ease, free and genuinely happy.

What are your thoughts on how Ethiopian Americans navigate their way through society? Do people always put up fronts, or is everyone really keeping it real?  Share your story!


Empowering our girls.

I would like to start today’s post with the following quote:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves,
to make themselves smaller.
We say to girls,
‘You can have ambition,
but not too much.
You should aim to be successful,
but not too successful.
Otherwise you will threaten the man.’
Because I am female,
I am expected to aspire to marriage.
I am expected to make my life choices
always keeping in mind that
marriage is the most important.
Now marriage can be a source of
joy and love and mutual support.
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
and we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors –
not for jobs or for accomplishments,
which I think can be a good thing,
but for the attention of men.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
in the way that boys are.
Feminist: the person who believes in the social,
political and economic equality of the sexes.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think this quote symbolizes what many women, especially Ethiopian women may face and go through in their lives. In Ethiopia, a woman has attained the ultimate success once she has married, had children and starts her own family. Unfortunately this translates into a circumstance where Ethiopian women come to America and teach their daughters that this is the ultimate success. I am not saying that this is what happens in all families. Many families like my own teach their daughters to have ambition, pursue an education and to become powerful women. However, upon graduation day the family begins to ask: “When are you getting married” “When will you make me a grandparent”. Now many of us do in fact want to get married and live that fairy tale dream. However that fairy tale should not come at the expense of reaching a young woman’s goals and aspirations. The man you marry and live out your life with should be someone that you can live out your life goals, without sacrificing your dreams. That person should be your support system and you should be his. It should not be at a cost of losing who you are as an individual. We should always teach our daughters to feel empowered. A man may look good on paper, however he may be pure evil on the inside. Simply put, families should focus on teaching their daughters to feel empowered, to be enough with or without a man. See, when you seek the attention of a man, you will NOT get him. When you focus on YOU, the right HIM will find you. Seek out your goals, live out your life, and when the time is right the right man will come along. Settling should never be an option.

All too often, women settle for a man that gives them attention. A man that buys her things, takes her places and impresses her family. That should not be the case. The value of individual should be what draws you to a man. Material things and a flashy lifestyle are things that could go away tomorrow. You should consider who the person is on the inside. That is what really counts.

I hope that we as a community can change our tone and conversation and recognize that our women are our biggest asset and should be treated with the ultimate respect.

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Who is in fact the “Typical Habesha”

There are plenty of blogs and tumblrs and little funny clips that say “you know you’re habesha when..” I find these very amusing and often times find myself relating to many of the posts.  Maybe I am a typical Habesha, but then again what does that really mean?  Today I would like to throw it out there for my readers….What is a “typical” habesha?  Do you consider yourself to be one.  Or are you a combination of “Typical” Habesha and American.  What do you think makes you typical.  Share your thoughts and ideas here!

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Spreading your wings to fly..the habesha mom’s greatest fear.

Eventually, every bird must leave the nest and learn to fly on his or her own.  Every parent knows that this inevitable truth is coming at some point, yet they act surprised at that moment of truth.  I feel as though Habesha parents seem to have a big problem with this subject matter.   

All of our habesha parents seem to want us to grow up and move away from the nest.  Whether it is moving out of town or out of the house.  They seem to become shocked with utter disbelief when their Ethiopian-American offspring are ready to leave the nest and make a declaration of independence.  Most Ethiopian Americans like myself grow up in closely knit family groups where everyone sticks together.  As soon as one person leaves the nest it is sometimes thought that the child has abandoned his or her family.  This is far from the truth.  It is always amusing to me because it seems as though they forget that they left their homeland and went to a foreign country, on the other side of the world before they were even 18 for the most part.  Parents complain about their kids sucking up all their resources, and constantly needing this or that.  Then when the child is prepared to declare independence, it is as though the child has turned his or her back on his or her family.  Note: this child is not actually a child anymore. 

This opinion is based on my personal experience as well as the experience of those around me.  I have several friends and family members that have moved away from their home towns, in search of something new.  A new adventure, a new experience, following their dreams and passions.  These are positive attributes where the Habesha parent should be proud.  At the end of the day I truly do believe they are all proud.  There is just a minor sting in their heart by the fact that their Ethiopian American child is no longer a child.  A reality that we must all face. 

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Abate (Father)

Abataye, (My Father) is the best Dad a girl could ask for.  I must say., He doesn’t hear it enough.  I think father’s are sometimes under appreciated and we take their existence for granted.  We often see our father’s as an enforcer ( which I do/ did).  But as a young woman, I see more clearly the important role my father has had in my life.

My dad and I have a pretty awesome relationship.  He is a dad, a friend, a confidant.  We argue, often, he lectures me, often, and reminds me (quite regularly) who the parent in this relationship is.  Along the way he has taught me to follow my dreams, work hard, stand up for myself and to never fear anything.  He has taught me about life and how to remain balanced.  He has shared his wisdom from his life experiences and always helps me navigate my way through the complexities of life.  We have engaged in endless political, theoretical and philosophical debates.  Each discussion teaches me something new and gives me a different perspective.

My father also took the initiative (along with my mother) to teach me how to take pride in my culture.  He especially played a role in me learning Amharic.  He insisted that we speak only Amharic in the house.  He took extra effort to make sure that no one ever made me feel bad if I mispronounced a word.  He simply allowed me to continue because he was confident that I would figure out the correct pronunciation.  Even today, when I say a new word in Amharic he tends not to correct me.  This is because he truly does believe we will figure it out and if we start to be corrected for every little thing we will lose confidence.  That was another major lesson he taught me.  How to be confident and fearless.

My father is also not the traditional or typical Ethiopian man.  Although he tends have strict views, he’s also very much about empowering his daughters.  He showed us respect, emphasized the importance of education and how to be confident.  They say that the way a father treats his daughter is a reflection of the type of man a girl will tend to marry.  I know my father raised and treated me well and I expect no less from my future husband.  The bar has been set high and I will accept no less.  Whenever anything in my life felt like it was going wrong, Dad was the one I would run crying to.  (literally).

I owe much of my success to my father’s tireless efforts.  He always pushed me to reach my limit and even surpass it.  Whenever I was scared or had fears growing up I knew I could go to Daddy.  He always some how knew exactly what to say to make whatever it was that was bothering me go away.  He still does.  I appreciate that and love that.

So Daddy, Happy Father’s Day! and Happy Father’s day to all the Dads out there from EthiopianAmericanGirl!


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